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Author Mara Dresner perfects the art of the staff meeting

Mara Dresner

WEST HARTFORD – Actor, playwright, and award-winning journalist Mara Dresner is communication director for Strategies, a business education and coaching company.
Dresner’s plays have been produced by theaters across the country, including Connecticut’s Theatre Guild of Simsbury, Windsor Jesters, and Manchester, as well as American Theatre of Actors in New York City and Pickwick Players in Massachusetts. Her farce, “An Impeccable Larceny” (Baker’s Plays, 1997) has been translated into Dutch.

Dresner has had leading roles in several independent films and has done improvisational and scripted comedy. She has appeared on camera in numerous commercial and corporate projects, and has done hundreds of voiceovers for companies as far away as Amsterdam. She teaches public speaking, acting and creative writing for adult education programs.
Like her interests, Dresner’s involvement in Jewish life is many faceted. A resident of Rocky Hill, she is a member of the Sisterhood of Congregation B’nai Tikvoh Sholom in Bloomfield, and attends services at Temple Beth Torah in Wethersfield and at Congregation Kol Chaverim in Glastonbury. She is also a benefactor for Torah Fund of the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism and has been involved with the Women’s Touch of the Benet Rothstein Chabad Jewish Center in Glastonbury.
Now, Dresner, a former staff writer for the Jewish Ledger, is also the author of a non-fiction book — “Super-charge Your Staff Meetings: 52 Ways to Create Fun, Meaningful, Memorable Meetings that Your Employees Will Love” (Strategies, 2011).
“Teamwork and communication are two of the most crucial elements for business success; yet, so many managers and supervisors don’t maximize the opportunity a staff meeting provides to foster connections between staff members,” Dresner says. “It’s not about being BFFs [‘best friends forever’]. It’s about employees feeling as though they’re on the same team.”
Using suggestions in the book, a manager can help employees challenge their preconceived notions about one another and find common bonds.
“Often we form impressions about our colleagues based on a single incident,” she says. “For example, if I have a question about filling out an expense report and the accounting person is busy, she might answer me while continuing her work. I then form the opinion that she’s gruff or impatient, when really I’ve just gotten her at an inopportune time. Or if I pass someone in the hallway and he doesn’t greet me, I may decide he’s unfriendly, when he’s preoccupied. We then sit on opposite sides of the table for meetings, and each of us has these often-untrue opinions of our colleagues. This doesn’t make for a team that’s willing to go the extra mile for one another and the company!”
When a manager starts the meeting with one of the suggestions in the book, employees start to look at each other in a different way, one that challenges preconceived notions. They find common bonds, whether it’s a favorite movie or holiday tradition.
Many staff meetings are dry recitations of sales goals, problems, and what the employees are doing wrong, Dresner says, which is why many people greet the staff meeting with dread. “Most of us have attended meetings and thought, ‘Well, that’s an hour of my life I’m not getting back,’” she says. But if a staff meeting is introduced in a positive way, participants will be more receptive to taking in information. Because people are in a creative mindset, they may find that ideas will flow more easily and be more apt to talk with one another.
Staff meetings are essential, Dresner says, because they provide an opportunity to share important company information. “Since we spend so much time at work, it’s imperative to feel connected to the people with whom we work,” she says. “There’s a common reaction when staff meetings are announced. People roll their eyes and search for any excuse to miss the meeting. The problem with that is when staff members aren’t connecting as a team in meetings, they’re probably not working as a team either. That means tasks aren’t getting done efficiently, and people start to dread going to work. It’s not about bonding for the sake of bonding. When employees share experiences and laughter, they are much more likely to help out colleagues, offer new ideas and insight, and work with a renewed effort. That can make a big difference on the bottom line.”
There are some telltale signs that staff meetings are successful, Dresner says, for example, when team members are open to receiving new information and volunteer their ideas and expertise, when the company’s atmosphere shifts from tense to focused, when there is laughter in the workplace, and when goals are consistently being met. “It’s not going to happen after a single meeting,” she says. “It’s definitely a cumulative effect.”

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